TREATING DOG AGGRESSION

Dog aggression may not be the easiest problem to solve because it can take some commitment. But with the right plan, you can change your dog’s behavior for the better in the majority of cases.

But success depends entirely on these factors:

1. The right methods used (more on that below).

2. The history of the dog (how intense the aggression is, how long the aggression has gone on for, etc.).

3. Committing to make change happen.

Creating a Dog Aggression Treatment Plan

Creating a plan is not as difficult as it may seem when you have the right information and support. Unfortunately some techniques, or performing techniques incorrectly can either slow down progress or in some cases make your dog worse.

Behavior modification is a very important technique but if it is not carried out correctly it can cause problems (see the blog post The importance of getting your dog’s attention at the earliest stage of aggressive arousal for one example).  Much of the time we fail because we either got second hand information or incomplete information on what is involved. It is more complex than simply giving your dog a treat when they are exposed to the thing they are aggressive towards.

A normal dog might be able to cope with methods that rely on scare tactics, pain, discomfort or intimidation but they can cause additional problems for a dog who has shown any kind of aggressive behavior (see more on 5 treatment methods to avoid).  When that happens many people don’t know where to turn.  Some consider euthanasia, others rehoming.

That’s why it is critical to find the right treatment plan for your dog right away; one that is designed to actually improve the life of your dog and keep those around safe.  With a good treatment plan that is based on science (and not charisma and story telling),  and getting support either from a support-group if your problem is not too serious or from a good professional who can help, it is usually possible to improve your dog’s behavior.

Treatment and management: 3 main areas for changing aggression in dogs:

1.  Behavior modification for an aggressive dog

Through behavior modification,  (learn more about what is behaviour modification) you can change how an aggressive dog responds to certain situations.  Behavior modification is the primary place people start out and most behavior can not change without it.

A retraining, or relearning program should offer a systematic approach to changing your dog’s behavior. And while you may consult a trainer or behaviorist, you are the one who will carry out the program with your dog so it is important you understand what is involved.

Recommendations should include some easy to implement passive practices that teach your dog to sit, and look and wait for cues on what he should be doing next, often called Foundation or Deference Training as well as Relaxation Training which helps you and your dog prepare for more targeted and direct behavior modification.

Targeted Behavior Modification for dogs is built on these foundation exercises. These exercises enable you to then work with your dog to reduce his or her anxiety that leads to the aggression.  This important work is often skipped or rushed through simply because people don’t understand exactly why it is so important.  In addition there are other exercises that you can practice with your dog that will help them develop better self-control over their emotions.  This too, makes behavior modification much easier.

While targeted behavior modification is one of the most important parts of any program, it is often where people fail because people have not been taught:

  1. How to plan a complete treatment program to ensure you dog is set up for success.
  2. How to recognize clear warning signs that your dog communicates telling you how slow or fast to proceed.
  3. Other things besides training that you can take advantage of to make things much easier.
If you push your dog too far or too fast in behavior modification, you risk making him or her worse.  If you want to learn more you may want to consider purchasing the  The Dog Aggression System Every Dog Owner Needs which goes into this in detail.
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2.  The environment the dog lives in

Changing things in your dog’s life is often on the most over-looked addition for improving issues with an aggressive dog. This might include a change in diet, or where you walk your dog for exercise or how you greet guests in the home.  It may even include changing what your dog plays with.  Most importantly, it involves preventing your dog to further behave aggressively, as each time your dog has the opportunity to behave aggressively, his brain becomes more and more effective at prompting those reactions.   

3.  Medication for aggressive dogs

There are few medicines designed specifically for treating dog aggression.  But there are many medicines that help normalize a dog’s chemistry and are used to help treat the underlying causes of aggression.  These should be prescribed by a vet.  However, medications do not work alone and there must be a behavior modification plan in place in order to see real change.  As much as other factors impact aggression, dogs learn to be anxious in some situations and aggression becomes a fall back way to cope.

The dogs that need medication for aggression need it in order for behavior modification to be effective.  These dogs are actually different and are often far too anxious to be able to learn properly.  Medications might help these aggressive dogs to think more normally, be less reactive and can help them learn better.  It can also help some dogs be less impulsive and allows a moment before acting aggressively to assess the situation or to gain self-control.  Without the medication they are more likely to resort to aggression that much more quickly.   Learn more about medications used for treating dog aggression.  

Behavior clinics such as University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine (VHUP) have a very high success rate with 90% of aggressive patients improve to the extent that the owners are happy to keep them. (We do not have any verified data on behaviorists or trainers success rates)  The challenge is that there can be a long waiting list to get an appointment with these clinics.  But there are things you can do now.

If you are interested in learning more about treating dog aggression, check out the e-book, The Dog Aggression System Every Dog Owner Needs.

Other articles you might be interested in

Treatment methods to avoid

How to maximise success in treating your aggressive dog

 Our favourite books on dog aggression


References

[1] Clinical Behavioral Medicine for Small Animals, Karen L. Overall, M.A., V.M.D., Ph.D. Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Behavior, Department of Clinical Studies, School of Veterinary Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia. Pennsylvania, Mosby, Inc. 1997